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The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World Paperback – January 5, 2009
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Part foreign affairs discourse, part humor, and part twisted self-help guide, The Geography of Bliss takes the reader from America to Iceland to India in search of happiness, or, in the crabby author's case, moments of "un-unhappiness." The book uses a beguiling mixture of travel, psychology, science and humor to investigate not what happiness is, but where it is. Are people in Switzerland happier because it is the most democratic country in the world? Do citizens of Qatar, awash in petrodollars, find joy in all that cash? Is the King of Bhutan a visionary for his initiative to calculate Gross National Happiness? Why is Asheville, North Carolina so damn happy? With engaging wit and surprising insights, Eric Weiner answers those questions and many others, offering travelers of all moods some interesting new ideas for sunnier destinations and dispositions. (2007)
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The writing style made this especially enjoyable. Travel the world with Eric and find out what happiness means to you.
"Watching Brits shed their inhibitions is like watching elephants mate. You know it happens, it must, but it's noisy, awkward as hell, and you can't help but wonder: Is this something I really need to see?" - from THE GEOGRAPHY OF BLISS
Writing The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain billed himself as a foreign correspondent. In THE GEOGRAPHY OF BLISS, author Eric Weiner is the foreign correspondent for National Public Radio reporting on what he admits is probably a self-imposed fool's errand, i.e. to find the happiest place on Earth despite possessing what he describes, on page one, as a "gloomy disposition." With that admission, I liked him already.
In ten chapters, Weiner records his search for joyful life in The Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Thailand, Great Britain, India, and America. For the sake of contrast, Eric also visits Moldova, where, apparently, everyone is profoundly miserable. And, in case you're wondering, our foreign correspondent does indeed seem to arrive at a consensus of one as to which of those places is the happiest. Perhaps my wife and I, always on the lookout for a retirement venue, should begin looking at the real estate listings.
The obvious question is why the author didn't include Disneyland on his itinerary, the self-styled "Happiest Place on Earth." That would've been an insightful touch with the potential for much humor, I suspect, if not necessarily uncovering overabundant happiness.
Weiner's style is easy-going and gently self-deprecatory. I like that in a travel essayist since a road trip of any length is best not taken too seriously.
There are travel narratives, and then there are travel narratives. I've usually found the best to be those through which runs a topical thread that wouldn't perhaps be cconceptualized by most writers. Attention All Shipping: A Journey Round the Shipping Forecast (Radio 4 Book of the Week),Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists, and The Sinner's Grand Tour: A Journey Through the Historical Underbelly of Europe fall into that category. THE GEOGRAPHY OF BLISS is similarly satisfying.